Archive for May, 2013

Freedom From Judgment

Roan Highland Mountain, TN

Roan Highland Mountain, TN

We all do it.  Some do it quietly in unexpressed thoughts and others do it with a loud bang.  You know what I am talking about.  Making  judgments about others.  I regretfully have been a part of the chorus of making judgments on people and have expressed them when it would have been better for all parties involved that  I kept my mouth shut.  I recently told someone during a heated exchanges that words are like boomerangs.  They come back to haunt you.  Needless to say, I hit a raw nerve with that person because we all know eating humble pie leaves a bitter after taste you won’t soon forget!  One needs to be mindful of how our judgments impact others without our  knowing it.  It is important to understand the difference between critique and criticism namely the spirit in which it is done.  A critique is an accepted and established process of orderly, scholarly and public debate.  Criticism is the act of passing severe judgment; censure; faultfinding.  One is constructive and provides a person with much needed information to improve what they are undertaking.  The other is hurtful and destructive and meant to do damage.

On more than one occasion, I’ve passed judgment without knowing all of the facts and have been quite embarrassed when the true facts came to light.  I have learned to make a concerted effort to get all the facts and hear all of the sides before I jump to a conclusion.  When I do this, I am able to empathize with people more.  I am able to see things from their perspective.  Not all circumstances are black and white, but clearly fall into a gray area.  When I reserve judgment my overused, analytical mind can rest from drawing erroneous conclusions.  It allows me to sit back and relax as the story unfolds.  It also helps my relationships with others in that I am more approachable and my presence is not synonymous with snap judgments and critical speech.

The Bible admonishes us to be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger.  Good advice for all of us to put into practice.

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Live Like You Are Dying

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          In recent years, I have had old friends lose a parent to a terminal illness like cancer or heart disease.  One friend in particular lost her mother only after losing her father a few years earlier.  The loss of one parent can be devastating, but the loss of two can be unimaginable especially when you are relatively young.  Plotting a course forward without their love and guidance can be difficult to say the least.  I know from my own personal experience with my father that a terminal diagnosis sneaks up on you when you are unprepared and leaves you spinning in circles and asking why?  The journey can be exhausting emotionally, mentally and physically.  I consider myself fortunate in that my father’s battle with cancer continues, but eventually it will win.  Being past the initial shock, surgery and rounds of chemotherapy, I can reflect more on what his cancer journey means to me.  As I care for my father and encourage him onward, I began to take a look at my own life.  I noticed that death and dying is not relegated to the old, but that young and old leave this world at the same rate.  The death of a young adult or even a child is particularly hard to bear because we think they had their whole lives ahead of them, but in reality no one is promised a long life.  With that I mind, I began to examine the habits of my own life and asked myself some tough questions.  If I were to die today would I feel like I had made the most of my life?  Am I wasting time and energy by harboring old grudges and hurts?  Is there a fence I need to mend?  Could I have been kinder to people or volunteered more?  What dreams have I long ago abandoned? I knew the answers and I knew what I had to do.  It started with forgiveness.  Forgiving others for what happened in the past and forgiving myself for not making the most of my time. For me forgiveness cleaned the slate.  It provided a new start that allowed me to shake away the past and move forward with my eye on the future.

When I looked back over my life I could see how I could have made better use of my time both personally and professionally and I committed myself to make a change.  I am a person of lists and of making plans and without them I am soon adrift with nothing to propel me forward.  Instead of a New Year’s Resolution, I decided to set goals and post in them in frequently visited places in my home like my office and bathroom. With setting goals, there needs to be an action plan for reaching those goals.  For the first time in my life, I made a daily plan where every hour of the day is assigned an activity.  Even beyond making a daily plan, it allowed me to identify what was important to me and the things I am passionate about and to make a concerted effort to incorporate those priorities and passions into my daily life.  In a year from now or five years from now I want to look back with no regrets having used my time wisely.  I want my investment of time to reflect what matters to me the most.  I will live each day like I am dying.

When Waiting Seems Like Forever

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             I hate waiting!!  I have always been impatient.  It’s one of my many flaws that for years I projected on others.  “These people need to get their act together.”  “How long does it take to do such and such?” “I have another appointment.” You know the routine.  My foot tapping, loud voice and rolling my eyes never advanced my cause.  Honestly, it probably hurt it.  Over the years, I have grossly abused the concept of multi-tasking in order to get things done quicker.  Take for instance cooking.  Ever filled a pot while popping chicken in the microwave to defrost and cutting vegetables and talking on the phone while watching television at the same time.  Guilty as charged and the result is an off-tasting meal because in my haste to get things done I’ve skipped a few steps like adding certain ingredients or not cooking according to the recipe. I watch in utter amazement people who are patient and wonder what’s their secret.  The frantic pace in which I move to get things done often leaves me exhausted and quality is sacrificed.  I sometimes justified my actions by telling myself, “At least I finished first,” but deep down inside I was disappointed in myself because I knew I could have done a better job.  Now that I am officially over the hill and have taken stock in my life I decided to make a conscious effort to be more patient.  Not just with cooking and other mundane tasks, but patient with people and certainly with myself. 

            What I’ve come to realize is that my impatience is an imaginary race with myself and my fears.  I’ve rushed through moments in life when I should have paused and appreciated the moment for what it was.  Those lost moments add up to a significant amount of time where I’ve deprived myself of the full experience of life. When I am patient I am amazed at what unfolds before my eyes in the form of resolutions to problems or a better understanding of what is happening.  By being patient I am able to respond appropriately and in a manner that relieves stress and anxiety from the equation. I am most amazed at what people will do on your behalf if you are just patient enough to give them a chance.  Patience is truly a virtue and something we should all strive for in our personal and professional lives.  As I approach the second half of my life, I feel better prepared to handle the ups and downs because I know the importance of patience and what it brings to my life.  Make a commitment today to be more patient.  You won’t be disappointed.  I promise.

The Melody Of Your Life

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              I have always been enamored by people with magnetic personalities.  You know the ones who make friends easily, can start a conversation with almost anyone and can rally support from a broad base of people.  You love to be around them and they love to be around people.  I have met many of those personalities over the years and I have watched them closely to see what personality traits I could incorporate in myself.  I love their ease with people. Their conversations effortlessly evolve and their ideas are positively received.  Secretly, my envy of them runs deep because it doesn’t come natural for me.  I have always been quiet and reserved and it takes me a long time to warm up to people.  I know this is my nature, but like every human being on the planet I want to make connections and friends with the people I meet. 

Several years ago, the discipleship and evangelism pastor at my church said something very profound to me.  He said, “People are attracted to the melody of your life.”  Sort of like if you’re singing a great song others want to join in the merriment.  Most people want to be around a kindred spirit.   Someone who you have something in common, someone who makes you feel good about yourself or someone who makes you laugh.  The melody of your life has the power to attract others to you or make them retreat.  The melody we make can be a natural outward expression of our internal spirit or we can make a conscious choice to change the record and sing a better tune. I constantly self-evaluate and take inventory of what melody I am singing.  Am I being negative?  Am I angry more than I should be?  Is it better to keep silent rather than criticize?  Believe it or not, someone is always watching and making silent judgments about you based upon the melody you are making. 

Take a look at yourself and inventory the people you are attracting.  Are they positive and supportive or are they critical and abrasive?  If you don’t like what you see consider changing your tune!

Spring—Time To Get Your Hands in the Dirt

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             As the thermometer rises and we shed our winter garb, for plant lovers like myself we know that longer sunlit days signal it’s time to get our hands in the dirt.  This spring brought us some of the coldest temperatures of the year.  The mild winter temperatures lulled me into thinking that it would pass without the jolt of a winter blast.  Just when I thought the coast was clear and I could don my flip flops and strapless dresses, winter showed up with its frosty fingers and reminded me “Not so fast.” 

Careful not to be outsmarted by Mother Nature, I waited until May for my annual pilgrimage to the local nursery for my favorite flowers and to test my hand at new wonders.  As I got in my car with checklist in hand, I thought back seven years ago when I first purchased my home.  I figured since I had crossed the threshold of homeownership that it was time to nurture a green thumb for my aesthetic pleasure and that of my neighbors.  I was nervous because my previous attempt to grow ferns in my apartment ended with me hauling two very dead bushes that vaguely resembled the ferns I had bought months earlier to the dumpster. 

Not deterred by my past failure, I visited the local garden shop and my eye examined each plant and its potential to add just the touch of color to compliment my front door. Row after row of pink, purple, yellow and white flowers filled my eyes and my nostrils with a sweet aroma.  Still undecided, I walked to the next row and was stopped in my tracks at the sight in front of me.  Sitting atop a display was a sunburst of color with yellow, green, brown and fuchsia intermingling in the perfect balance of color.  I walked closer admiring each leaf and wondered what was this creation.  I spun the plant around until I located the tag.  It read—Croton.  I had found what I was looking for and without any delay I picked up two crotons and before long I was at the register paying for my purchase. I carefully placed my crotons in the back seat of my car and eased out of the parking lot and made my way home.  I watered and fertilized my way into a new existence that summer and each year thereafter I would add something new–English Ivy,  Knock Out Roses, Tulips, and Azaleas to name a few.  

Now my trips to the local nursery include tomatoes, cucumbers and other delectables I enjoy on my table.  They grow in such abundance I am able to share with neighbors and friends Spring, it is my favorite time of year!

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The Pay-Off

Stone Mountain

Stone Mountain

     It was my birthday and the day had been great.  The last activity planned was a hike up Stone Mountain.  I’d never hiked this large granite rock so when my hiking group decided this was the location for our meeting I jumped at the chance.  The temperature was in the mid-seventies and sunshine filled the sky.  Conditions could not have been more perfect and after the meet and greet, we headed up the 1,700 feet to its top.  Elevation hikes are my least favorite hikes and I knew this would be a challenge. Our pilgrimage was slow and steady, but we all reached our first rest stop. The sweat beads had already formed on my forehead and I was out of breath, but the organizer’s enthusiasm encouraged us onward.  The question everyone asked, “How much farther do we have to go?”  And the answer I’d come to dread while hiking, “Not that much farther.”  With our rest period over with, we made the final push to get to the top.  Each step was labored and my fear of falling backwards grew.  I prayed the treads on my hiking boots would keep my feet from slipping.  I could see the top, but it was still a ways off.  I stopped momentarily to catch my breath.  I had come too far to give up now and if I pushed myself, I would reach the top.  One by one we reached the summit.  I turned around and took in the view.  I could see for miles in each direction and the view was stunning.  The greenery of the trees tops, the deep blue horizon and the skyline made the climb worth it.  As the sun began to set, bands of yellow, orange and black signaled dusk was here.  To the east a full moon had begun its climb and for several moments, you could see the sun setting in the west and the moon rising to the east.  I’d forgotten about the sweat beads and my fear of falling. The view had made the struggle irrelevant. Our hike leader made a comment that summed up the whole experience.  He said, “If you could endure the journey of the hike, the pay-off is well worth it.”  Indeed it was.

Sunset at Stone Mountain

Sunset at Stone Mountain

Rules To Live By

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              A few years ago, I was looking for items to display on a new shelf in my living room.  I wanted an eclectic, world traveler feel so I opted for several vintage looking pieces to accomplish the look.  I ran across two old cameras one of which had a story.  It had been taken to Vietnam in 1969 by the gentleman who sold it to me and even better it still worked.  I also came across an antique bronze plaster cast box with the lid covered with a stack of ball point pins.  The inscription on the front read “The Pen Is Mightier Than The Sword”  Edward Bulwer-Lytton.  As a writer, the inscription reminded how powerful our words are and that we should chose them carefully.  One day as I scoured the shelves of one of my favorite stores, I came across a framed canvas with what appeared to be hand stitching and the phrase on top caught my eye.  It read “Rules To Live By.”  The color was perfect because the canvas looked as if it had been aged by sunlight and the look and feel of the framed canvas fit my theme.  Not finding anything else that caught my eye, I checked out and was on my way.  When I got home, I sat down and read what the canvas explained the rules to be.  Rule #1:  Never Give Up.  Rule #2:  Be nice to one another.  Rule #3 Think good thoughts.  Rule #4:  Try to do better.  Rule #5:  Say please and thank you.  Immediately, I thought of my mother and the repetitive sayings she uttered in my youth that have now become a part of my personal mantra.  The rules seemed like common sense and second nature in a lot of ways, but what I think is common is not so common for others.  I knew the canvas was on to something. 

The first rule of never give up is a crucial in every day of life.  Holding on when the going gets rough can find us experiencing some of the sweetest and best triumphs of our lives so we have to remember the “race is not to the swift nor the battle to the strong…but time and chance happen to them all.”

The second rule of being nice to one another should be taught from birth.  Years ago, I remember my parents impressing upon me the importance of a good first impression because you may not get a chance to make a second.  These days that belief has gone right out the window.  It’s more like “sucker punch fast and often.”  Learning to be kind and nice to other people sets the tone in many relationships and you will find that people will return the favor.  As the saying goes, “You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”

The third rule of thinking good thoughts relieves me of the stress and torment of worry.  I call it my happy box.  It’s the place where I go when I refuse to let negativity rule the day. Mark Twain’s quote comes to mind, “I have lived a long life and had many trouble, most of which never happened.”

The fourth rule of trying to do better falls into my category of “If you know better than do better.”  Making an effort is half the battle in my opinion and once you make the effort going all the way is easier. 

The fifth rule of saying please and thank you goes a long way in getting people on your side.  It’s a simple gesture of gratitude and appreciation that lets others know you appreciate them and all that they do on your behalf. 

            Sounds simple, yes, now try putting it into practice and better yet teaching it to the people in your circle of influence.  You’ll find the rules to live by makes the world a better place!!Blog photos 004